A flock of chickens lives a comfortable, safe life on a farm. It may be rather predictable, but there is plenty of food, and everyone knows their role and their place. So what if one of them is carried off every so often? After all, they’re just chickens.
But one day the capybaras arrive, seeking refuge from hunting season. And life on the farm will never be the same.
Written and illustrated by Alfredo Soderguit, The Capybaras is on the surface a cute book about interspecies animal friendships, but it is in actuality a parable about welcoming those who are different from us, providing refuge to the persecuted, and just how much our own worlds open up when we do so.
The capybaras are too big, too hairy, too wet, too unknown, and just plain too many for the chickens. Rules are established:
“1. Don’t make any noise.
2. Don’t come out of the water.
3. Don’t come near the food.
4. Don’t question the rules.”
But as is often the case, it is the children who make the first overtures toward one another. A capybara pup and a chick approach each other tentatively at the water’s edge. Soon the chick is gleefully hitching a ride on the capybara’s back. The sight sends the chick’s mother into an apoplexy. The capybaras are wild animals! No one can go near them! The rules are for everyone!
Some time later that same intrepid little chick wriggles out of a hole in the chain link fence surrounding the chicken yard. No one in the flock notices, but the farm’s dog certainly does. The dog chases the chick all the way to the water’s edge, where there just happens to be a capybara. The capybara spirits the chick away just in time.
From that day forward, everything changes. The rules are rescinded. The herd of capybaras and the flock of chickens share meals, and bed down together at night in the chicken coop. Will their new way of life continue once hunting season concludes?
Originally published in Spanish as Los carpinchos by Venezuela based publisher Ediciones Ekaré, the English translation by Elisa Amado brings this award winning book to a wider audience. The text is deliberately sparse, with key details of the story presented by the illustrations. The illustrations feature an unfussy palette of blacks, browns, and greys, with pops of red throughout. Soderguit makes use of comic book-like panels on some pages, especially in moments of higher drama. This all makes for a visually arresting and emotionally resonant book.
A curious child may be inspired to learn more capybaras after reading this book. In the classroom, this picture book can be used in instructional units about South America, or maybe in an unit dedicated to more unusual members of the animal kingdom (platypuses, anyone?). It can easily be paired with nonfiction texts about capybaras. It would also lend itself well to an interactive story time, particularly one in which the reader encourages the gathered children to draw inferences from the simple yet rich illustrations.
As stated above, at its core The Capybaras is a book about migration, welcoming the stranger, and learning to live with others. May we all take a page from the capybaras’ book and seek to live peacefully with one another.
Written and Illustrated by Alfredo Soderguit
Translated from Spanish by Elisa Amado
Greystone Books, 2021
Originally published 2020, Ediciones Ekaré
Awards (for Spanish edition): New York Public Library Best Books in Spanish 2020 ; International Youth Library White Raven, 2020; Babelia Selection from El País, 2020; Cuatrogatos Foundation Prize, 2021.
Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.